Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo Perspective on church and missions. Welcome to episode 98 of Missions on Point. This is number 11 in a series of 14 on church-based missionary training. In this episode, we're going to turn the corner a little bit as we complete all of the pre-field training requirements and qualifications of your prospective missionary. We're going to move into this idea of commissioning them out to the field and pair that with some thoughts regarding decommissioning or they're leaving the field. These are two significant milestones and we want to get these right.

First, let's talk about commissioning. Traditionally, commissioning in the armed services or in the diplomatic core is the inauguration of service of someone or something. It means commissioning for service in the armed forces as an officer. It means commissioning a ship or some military vehicle of some sort for beginning its service.

It is certainly the mark of the final step to launch the missionary into missionary service. They have finished all of their requirements. They have done all the pre-field training. It almost certainly will have included over the course of some time, some formal training, informal training, examination, counsel. All of the things that are done in church-based training of the missionary will require a significant amount of time, and so this is a wonderful, huge milestone for them personally and for their family.

It's also an enormous milestone for the church. Very few churches these days actually have experienced in their recent history the sending out of a missionary from their church, so if you are the sending church, congratulations, this is a fantastic milestone. It ought to be celebrated. If you are a supporting church of a missionary, certainly you want to have someone who is represented at the commissioning service so that you can join in the celebration.

A commissioning service is kind of a graduation ceremony. The candidate is exhausted from all the work, yet they're excited about going to the field. This is a huge accomplishment for them and for the whole church. In most cases, a commissioning service has been a Sunday evening service. Sometimes it will be the Sunday morning service and in a couple of occasions I've seen it be a whole day thing where they have parts of it in the morning service, sort of a family fellowship and lunchtime together in midday, and then again, the conclusion in the evening service time. It's certainly appropriate to invite family and friends and other supporting churches to the sending church for this commissioning service whenever it is, and here are some of the elements that might be included. I'm not stipulating exactly how much time would be for each element or that all the elements would be included at all. This is just sort of a cafeteria of possibilities for you.

First is at least a brief understanding of the biblical basis of missions. You might want to have a printed program that includes ways to contact the new missionary and security guidelines for communication if necessary. Certainly you would include elements of congregational worship, including music that is appropriate to missions and to commitment. You would include some scripture reading, the missionary's testimony of salvation or calling. Maybe an interview with the missionary regarding the preparation process and the church's vision for ministry on the field and ministry goals. It's good to recognize those who have played particularly significant roles in the missionary's qualification process. People like mentors or prayer partners or family members, including good friends who have been supported through all of their training. Usually there is a biblical charge to the missionary, which is a short message from the senior or preaching pastor to the missionary.

Then there may be a word of commendation or testimony from the mission sending agency representative or the people who have been particularly impacted by the Ministry of the Missionary during these preparation years. You could recognize the Barnabas team or prayer and care team or advocacy team who's going to stand behind them as they go out and continue to give ongoing, practical, personal support. It would be really helpful to all those in the audience to hear an explanation of the preparation and qualification process, usually by a church leader or a missions team leader.

Then there is a small charge, at least to the congregation, to hold the ropes. That is to stand behind them in prayer and giving and practical encouragement. Toward the end, you'll have a prayer of dedication, perhaps laying on of hands or whatever ceremonial kind of significance you give to dedicating and commissioning them out. And then the missionary may him or herself or themselves have a response or acceptance of the charge as a missionary, and you may want to even have a presentation certificate saying, "on such and such a date, you were commissioned to the work of ministry of a missionary from our church."

Finally, you don't want to miss having some sort of a reception, a congratulatory party kind of atmosphere of, "Hey, we completed this. This is a group thing together that we've seen God do and now we're sending you out." Of course, somewhere in the mix you would want to have a description of what their ministry is going to be like. You may not be able to give a lot of detail depending on the place they're going and the clear definition of what kind of ministry they will have and the security level of the area that they're going to, but you could include some things regarding the culture, the geography, the food, the place, the people, the gospel need. All of those kinds of things could be included as some sort of report in the mix.

After the party's over, there may need to be some serious attention to actually giving your missionary a few days of rest before they actually depart for the field. One of the problems that we've had with new missionaries arriving on the field is that sometimes they're so worn out by all the process and all the goodbyes that they're exhausted when they land, and that's not a great frame of mind, frame of heart, for them to be able to learn and absorb and get started in their new life on the foreign mission field. They may need some specific help even in packing and shipping of their goods.

Many missionaries assume that they're going to ship a bunch of things from their household, whereas the modern missionary tends to think of arriving with just a few suitcases and access to funding so that they can buy local things and set up their house, apartment, flat, whatever, locally. Those are all things that are good to not assume that the missionary's going to take care of it all themselves, but they have people walking with them through those last little steps before say, going to the airport to board the plane.

Often the sending church will send a little delegation to the airport actually to gather with them before they have to go through security and just have a special word of prayer and acknowledgement that the Lord is in this. It's the Lord that's doing it, and the Lord will keep them as they go to the field. Please be wise about whatever you do in a public setting because you never can be sure who would be listening and passing on information, so you don't want to be too overt or public or have too big a crowd commissioning them to go to some unreached people group and proclaim the gospel and plant churches.

One of the assumptions of commissioning is that the person is going under authority. That is the authority, whether that's the military in the military sense of the word, or in this case a missionary being sent out by the church. It means that the person doesn't make all of their choices. They are under appointment. They have a commission to do a job or a mission. They have a specific role and specific responsibilities. They are accountable to the leaders and the organization that is sending them.

Just like we talked about in the previous episode on giving up personal rights, they should realize that they don't have a personal right to leave the field on their own. Just like an officer who may be commissioned by the military does not leave his post without being decommissioned by the military. In the same way a missionary needs to take into account that though they may encounter very difficult times and have hardship, whether it's preventable or unpreventable, and they need to have the right kind of permission to modify their commission or calling or the goals and mission to which they're sent to accomplish, at a minimum, they need to confer with those in authority over them to receive permission to actually leave the field if that's going to happen.

I trust that the sending church will not easily give that kind of permission, rather that they would bolster and come alongside the missionary to help them with whatever challenges they're facing to encourage them and enable them to stay on the field long term and work through those challenges to get to the other side of long-term faithfulness and fruitfulness.

There is deep personal cost invested in this missionary preparing and going to the field. There is a huge investment in personal relationships and spiritual costs to the church that's sending them, not to mention the material financial costs of the missionary going to the field, and the investment of that represents in sending someone specifically to proclaim the gospel, do spiritual ministry to strengthen churches or see churches planted where they have not been before.

Those costs are not insignificant. They should not be belittled by a missionary somehow running into hard times, and on their own just deciding and announcing that they're going to come home from the field. Hopefully your church, if you're the sending church, have worked through that with your missionary so that they know they're not an independent agent. They have given up their personal rights to some level or another, and that they are under the authority, the commissioning authority of the church. Therefore, they need to seek a process for decommissioning if the situation on the field is so grave that they must return.

If their return and decommissioning is approved by their missionary sending agency and the sending church, then there is a significant process of reintegrating them back into life in their home country and in their home church. Hopefully, they will have learned lessons that are deep enough that will bless the church in the long run through their experiences and their ability to turn that around so that they faithfully integrate back into ministry in the local church from which they were sent.

Understand that coming back home is a traumatic time for any missionary. They have invested a lot of time and effort in going to the field. They've told practically everyone that they know that this is God's calling in their life and that this is what they are supposed to be doing probably for the rest of their life, and then they come home. That is a significant challenge to their whole emotional, spiritual psyche.

It's natural for them to feel defeated, deflated, disillusioned. They're going to need some good, solid, biblical and spiritual counsel to encourage them in the Lord and challenge them to rest on God's sovereignty and his providence in their life to continue to use them, love them, and do what's best for them. They may actually need some help in resettling, depending on how long they've been away, perhaps finding a job, if they're going to stay long term. These are not small matters. They're not unimportant matters. They need to be handled delicately and yet firmly with grace and love so that they have the best opportunity to reintegrate and be restored into full fellowship and activity with their home church.

In all things from the very beginning of their calling, through their long training process to the commissioning, and eventually, even if it's multiple decades on the field or just a shorter period of time, we want to give God glory in all things. We want to do all things well. No matter what happens, we want to see others joyfully move forward to fill their shoes, so to speak, on the field and to continue moving the cause of Christ and the gospel forward until all nations have been reached. Lord, help us and may it be so.

Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo Perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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